John Paul Jones. A good ship captain and tenacious fighter but an abysmally bad squadron commander and a tireless self-promoter and schemer, who was deservedly disliked by subordinates and peers and who certainly does not warrant the title “Father of the United States Navy.”
Tough question—most of the characters are forgotten, so if we say someone is “over-rated” but is barely known, then, is he or she? John Hancock. Very popular figure in Massachusetts, not as important to the Revolution here as Samuel Adams or Josiah Quincy.
All the usual suspects who have been carrying the full load of the Revolution in the traditional national narrative.
The most overrated Revolutionary was John Hancock. He was an airhead.
I can’t fault Israel Putnam’s personal bravery and energy, but after May 1775 the man was never present for an American battlefield victory. Yet he’s one of the best known Continental generals.
I’ll vote for Benjamin Lincoln. He performed miserably in the South. His ill-conceived plan to strike Savannah in the May 1779 nearly led to the loss of Charleston. He showed no effective leadership in the October attack on Savannah. In 1780 he allowed the British to reach Charleston without opposition, then let South Carolina officials bully him into defending the city and lost his army as a result.
Franklin is the most overrated. He was not unimportant – indeed, I think he was a very great man – but as he was abroad for years, he played a minor role in the insurgency between 1765 and 1775. Furthermore, while Franklin was popular in France, Vergennes was a realist who acted in the interest of his country. It is ludicrous to think that Franklin pulled his strings.
Finding someone to curse with the label of most overrated participant is difficult. First of all, the person in question must be held in high esteem by most historians or he would hardly qualify to be considered in the category of ‘overrated’. I am hesitant to bring out the name since those who worship at the altar of the Continental Army’s superiority over the militia are certain to cry foul, but, in truth, there is one man who I have often felt overrated in terms of his overall contribution to the revolution. Baron von Steuben came to Valley Forge in the Spring of 1778 and helped develop a plan for training the troops and standardizing drill movements. He remained with Washington during Monmouth and for a year following before going to Virginia with Greene where he stayed to recruit and train troops while commanding the Continental army in Virginia. His time was a complete bust and, were it not for Washington’s timely victory at Yorktown, von Steuben would very likely have been tried for cowardice and run out of the Virginia if not all of the states.
Nathan Hale. A courageous Patriot, yes, but his spying made little difference militarily – New York City fell to the British during his mission. His death did little to rally widespread Patriot support; few knew of it. And no one knows for sure if he uttered the famous line, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
Few personalities have been promoted as effectively as has poet Henry David Longfellow with Boston express rider, silversmith, and jack of many trades, Paul Revere. In this instance the brightness of retellings have cast Revere as a legendary hero. Catapulted into the limelight by Longfellow’s catchy Midnight Ride, Revere’s subsequent historical celebrity has unjustifiably cast into the shadows the very real contributions of his Sons of Liberty superiors and politically active men and women with whom he interacted. Revere’s actual contributions to the cause of American liberty and independence have been distorted ever since.